Focus on Your Heart

Focus on Your Heart

How the boys and I felt this Monday morning.

Nothing out of the ordinary. I slept through my alarm, then my backup alarm, and finally got up at the same time I’m supposed to be getting #bambam up for his shower. Just like any other day, I staggered around, breaking up arguments, reminding myself not to police the kids (and then doing it anyway). We had a last minute addition to the shower schedule and realized that we were out of Uncrustables sandwiches for lunches. At one point as my husband was fleeing for his life I even uttered the words, “This is why I hate my life.” I’m pretty sure I didn’t mean it though.

At some point in the circus I decided I needed to try to get myself ready for work. I washed yesterday’s makeup off my face because I was too tired last night to. I found a wrinkle free polo and a stretchy pair of black pants. My only option for my frizzy hair was a messy bun and yes, that is the same bandeau I wore on Saturday. As I do on every Monday morning, I stepped on the bathroom scale and, for the second week in a row, saw a number I had never seen before.

My heart sank as I saw those numbers and I replayed all of my poor health choices over the last week. As I do every week, I vowed to do better while knowing deep in my soul that I can’t. I can’t do it y’all. With all of the plates I am juggling something had to drop one of which was my personal health. In everything buzzing through my brain I heard a whisper, “Focus on your heart this week.”

The other plate that lay cracked at my feet is my heart and my soul. I’ve neglected the One who made me and in so doing have neglected myself. Not just my fleshy (flabby) body, MYSELF. Who I really am beyond the flab. I have been medicating my feelings and stress with Oreo cookies (double stuff of course) and candy corn instead of feeding my heart by spending quiet, quality time with God. Those things only taste good while they are in my mouth but they leave me still feeling empty inside.

Focus on your heart. “Okay God, I can do that.” And I left the bathroom feeling a bit lighter. I brushed my daughter’s hair and made her sandwich so she wouldn’t miss the bus. I gave grace, took this pic with my boys, and laughed while we waited for the bus to arrive. I gave extra hugs and “I love you” signs and I forgot all about the numbers on the scale this morning because I focused on my heart.

So what does that mean, really? What does it look like day-to-day to focus on my heart? Does this mean I can eat Oreos and candy corn all day? Well, I’m not buying any more Oreos, but I’m also not going to stress over snacking when I get home from work or even after the kids go to bed. I will enjoy the Halloween candy and birthday cake this week because it’s Halloween and my daughter’s birthday.

For me, it looks like dragging my tush out of bed when the alarm goes off so that I can have quiet time in the morning with just coffee and Jesus. It looks like unending grace towards myself and my kids (and Jared too, I guess). It looks like stopping what I am working on for evening prayers and tuck-ins. It looks like giving up my nightly tv show in favor of quiet reflection and prayer for those I love.

This week, I’m choosing to set aside the guilt and the cookies to focus on becoming the person I was made to be. To focus on my Creator and the passion He has placed in me. To focus on my purpose and tuning my ears to hear the Spirit’s voice.

To focus on my heart.

Absolutes

Absolutes

This is me this week.

A little dramatic maybe but I look at this picture of my precious #princesspea and I know exactly how she feels.  She wants to give up.  In this moment, learning to ride her bike is not worth the frustration and pain.

This week I leveled with God.  I told him, “I don’t want to do this.”  I don’t want to spend every waking hour thinking about my next social media post.  I don’t want to worry anymore about who is watching the vlog.  I don’t want to think about how my words could get twisted into something that offends someone instead of inspires them.  And God listened.

He listened to me cry out that I’m stretched too thin.  That I’m tired of eating out and staying up late.  That I’m tired of only doing everything half-way because that is all I have.  That I’m clearly not the right person for this job because of the things that I have read others say about me.  And He reminded me of a once-favorite story of mine.

Nerd alert: I love C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.  Like, until I had kids, I read all 7 books every single year.  They never get old and every time I read them I am inspired in some way.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Pevensies are on a mysterious island with invisible creatures.  Lucy is tasked with sneaking into the magician’s house and finding the spell to make them visible again in his book.  Amongst the other spells in the magician’s spell book, Lucy finds one that would let you know what your friends think about you and she utters it.  She, of course, is crushed when what she hears is not what she expected or hoped.  She laments later to Aslan that she doesn’t think she’ll be able to forget what she heard her friends say.  I feel like my heart echoes hers when she says, “Oh dear.  Have I spoiled everything?” 

Did I pour water on my passion when I satisfied my curiosity and read those comments?  Would I have been better off not reading them?  Will that defining moment change everything from here on out?  (Told you I was being dramatic.)

“Child,” said Aslan, “did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?”

I did pour water on my passion for my purpose when I read those comments and there is no way to know how hot it could have burned if I hadn’t.  However, I do have a choice of what to do next.  As I wrestle with that decision today, I am focusing on my absolutes; what I know without a shadow of a doubt:

1. God sees me
2. God sees the burdens I carry
3. God has a plan for me
4. His plan requires me to be visible and vulnerable

And with that, I know I must carry on.

If you have hit a wall pursuing your purpose let me encourage you with this one thing:  Start with your absolutes.  And know that God sees you.

The “C” Word: Counseling

The “C” Word: Counseling

I feel like we need to talk about the “c” word: COUNSELING.

Be honest, when you hear that word, do you feel your brain shutting down?  Mine did.  When we started our foster journey, we knew that counseling would be an option.  Even that it was encouraged for us and for the kids.  But counseling was not for us.  Not that we thought we were “all-knowing” or above any issues.  We knew we would need help along the way.  We assumed, when we needed help, we would Google, call family, or ask friends (not in that order of course).

It was almost immediately after our 5 kiddos moved in that we knew we were in over our heads.  There were anxieties and behaviors we were not prepared for, even after 18 weeks of Foster training with the State.  We elicited advice from family, spoke often with their former foster family, read lots of books, and Googled, and Googled, and Googled.  Some of our issues we were able to work through with the kids but about 6 months in we had a situation arise that broke us.  

We felt the way many (if not most) of you do about calling a counselor.  We did not want the kids to have yet another label to bear.  Labels are so heavy.  We were afraid the counselor would not share our worldview.  We were afraid of allowing a stranger be the one to replace the lies in our kids’ hearts and minds.  What if they replaced those lies with more lies instead of truth?

But we had to do something.  We talked with the kids’ caseworker and learned we had some freedom in our choice of a counselor.  They just needed to accept Medicaid insurance.  Barrier one, removed.  However, not all counselors accept Medicaid.   And, as I researched counseling providers in our area I was so discouraged.  One provider touted “dream interpreting” while another forced us to take the kids from school because they didn’t see clients in the afternoon or evening. 

At one point, we did pull the kids from school to meet with one counselor but as we left we both felt pretty strongly that missing school for weekly counseling wasn’t the right choice.

We were sharing our frustration with our caseworker during a visit.  Amazingly, that week a counseling provider had stopped by her office and left their card!  She shared the information with me and I called them the next day.

Not only would they see our kids in the evenings, they could come to our house!  This seemed almost too good to be true.  We still had lots of fears about the counselor we would be assigned to but we also were beginning to feel more confident in our power as parents to say “no” and move on to another provider if we needed to.

She came in the afternoon, after the kids got off the bus.  She was only to see the older 3 and then she saved time for a “family session” at the end (we quickly learned that families are her passion).  She didn’t rush out after she was done but took her time to answer all of our questions and hear our concerns.  The little two were a bit devastated to be left out of the one on ones but successfully commanded her attention during the family sessions.

The kids warmed up to her quickly, I think it was a combination of her being on “their turf” and her God-given skills of connecting with children.  As time went on and we got to know more about her and she got to know more about us, we connected and she was able to incorporate faith in her sessions because she shared the same worldview we do.  She was able to point to Christ as she was helping our kids work through feelings that were bigger than they are and process through their past experiences while look towards the future.  She gave them hope and the tools they needed to hang on to it.

She never jumped to conclusions, she never pushed medication or any diagnosis whatsoever.  I never felt like I was unable to disagree with her (though I rarely did).  I never felt attacked or ashamed of my parenting choices or my children’s behavior.  I did, however, feel empowered as a mother and encouraged at the end of each session.  She didn’t always tell me what I wanted to hear, and some of what we worked through was painful.  But she was right there with us the entire time.

We are stronger today because we accepted help from a counselor when we needed to.  I want you to know a few things we learned on our counseling journey:

  • It is okay to meet with several providers before you find the right fit for your family.  It’s also okay to meet with the counselor yourself before your kids meet them.  
  • Ask if they can come to your house (if you are comfortable).
  • Sessions won’t necessarily be convenient and you may have to sacrifice an afternoon or evening, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice school, church, or other important functions (notice I didn’t say sports…we did sacrifice sports but it was worth it).
  • Expect a recap at the end of each session with just you and the counselor.  A good counselor will help you as much (or, in our case, more) than your kids.
  • Also, expect homework.  No one is perfect, if you are given homework from the counselor, do it.

Please do not be afraid or ashamed if you or your family needs counseling.  And do not think less of others that are in counseling.  We don’t know the storm that is raging inside those we are closest to but we can help them face it.

When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.
Fred Rogers

When you’re ready to take that first step, we highly recommend our friend, Jen Skavhaug. Find more about her here: http://www.jenskavhaug.com/#/

Family Vacation = An Adventure!

Family Vacation = An Adventure!

Vacationing has always been a bit of an adventure for Jared and I.  Jared is very spontaneous and likes to have “experiences” while I’m usually content with simplicity and familiarity.  Last year, we added 5 children to our typical vacation adventures and it quickly turned into vacation insanity.  A good insanity though…sometimes!

There’s something wonderful about getting out of the town you live in for a while.  We may simply be going from one tourist town to another but for me, it is always a refreshing change of perspective.  Almost like a chance to re-set and I feel that when I get home, I can start over new.  I tell myself that when I get home I will… 

  • Cook every night
  • Do yoga
  • Start vlogging
  • Have quiet time at night before bed
  • Pray more
  • Eat healthier
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.

It’s so easy to set the stresses of every day life aside on vacation.  It is easier to forget about the stresses of work, childcare (and the lack there-of), and all of the day-to-day mumbo jumbo that gets heavier and heavier as time goes by.  

Let’s be serious…I’ve never been able to keep a New Year’s resolution.  I know that I won’t do these things for long.  In addition, when I looked over my list, I realized that these things added at least 3 hours to my day not including the etceteras.  Three hours to an already packed and exhausting life.

It was with all these things in mind that I went to church this morning.  At one point during the sermon, the guest speaker quoted from the book Essentialism by Greg Mckeown and it stopped me in my tracks.  It was so powerful and relevant to all of the things rolling around in my brain that I later looked the entire quote up:

The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s.  It was singular.  It meant the very first or prior thing.  It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.  Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.  Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality.  Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first things”.

I was trying to order my “priorities” when that word shouldn’t even exist.  When I shifted my focus to establishing one priority, everything else on my list seemed manageable.  I know that somehow everything else will fall into place.

This year, instead of taking mostly pictures, we tried to take lots of videos of our adventures.  I love to write and plan to continue to do so, however, we know that there is power in video.  When you watch videos, you feel like you are a part of what you are watching so we plan to begin adding vlogs to our list of communications.  This is something we have felt like we should start doing for a while now but to be honest, we have struggled with differing artistic views and a limitation of skills.  That is code talk for lots of arguing and wasted hours.  This is a very strange and new world for us and sometimes we feel silly for even thinking that our small pebble could cause a big enough ripple to make a difference.  Among many other things, I pray this prayer for our family:

Lord, do something unpredictable and uncontrollable.
The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

It is a scary thing to pray, but so great is my desire that God use our family somehow.  I’m ready for the scary.

I’ve learned a few things about traveling with kids.  I’m looking forward to sharing with you a few of these in a vlog very soon.

Grateful

Grateful

I have a tendency to overthink things. Shocking…I know. Maybe that’s why Christmas gets harder and harder for me each year. The extravagance that is the American Christmas makes me sick to my stomach.

Are they grateful?
Did they say “Thank you”?
Did they mean it when they said “Thank you”?
Do they even appreciate those socks?
Where are we going to store that?
Ummm…is that a pooping baby doll?? (True story)

This year was our first year as a family that we stayed home and celebrated Christmas just us. Jared and I agreed to let the kids open their gifts on Christmas Eve (a Black family tradition). As you can imagine, 5 children opening gifts all at once is a bit chaotic. About halfway through, I had to retreat to the Christmas puzzle (a Hamilton family tradition…the puzzle, not the retreat).

The holidays are draining, you hear it everywhere you turn. I am no exception to this rule. In fact, this year, in the midst of the season, I have been dealing with a particularly tough realization. There are people in my life who have made great sacrifices for me and I will never be able to repay them. I almost lose it just typing that. I will never be able to repay them. For a long time, I haven’t been okay with that. The guilt alone is a weight I can not bear. I noticed myself withdrawing and it became really hard to maintain relationships. Around Thanksgiving, I finally started letting God chip away at my pride. It’s been very painful and at times downright awful. I am in no way near acceptance but instead of dwelling on the debts I cannot pay, I am learning to look for ways I can bless others. It’s kind of like “paying it forward” I suppose although I’m not a fan of that term. Instead of trying desperately to repay those who, quite frankly I need but do not need me, I am learning to look for those who don’t have the ever-present, firm, and loving support system I have. I can only hope that by supporting and encouraging others, I will in turn bring more meaning to the ones supporting me and therefore will increase their influence.

I will forever be grateful to:
♡Those who saved our kids from being split up and continue to nurture them and treat them like beloved grandchildren (and me like a beloved child).
♡Those who agree to be called Aunt and Uncle and truly treat us like family.
♡Those who travel long distances to visit often bringing peace and a break.
♡Those who pray for me when I cannot pray for myself.
♡Those who tell me I’m doing a good job.

I know I’ve been a burden. I cling to Jesus’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” “For when I’m weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 2:10b)

For all that You have done for us
For every battle won
We’ll raise a song to bless Your heart
For all that You have done
Rend Collective

Much love,
The Black Family

Let It Go

Let It Go

If your household is anything like mine you were consumed with the Disney movie, Frozen. Even today, when the movie of choice is Moana, my girls play Elsa and Ana and #4 even does a whole routine with her little blankie to the song “Let it Go” that is quite dramatic. For years I would moan when that song came on or stealthily switch the radio station or press the skip button on the playlist. It was everywhere! There was just no escaping Queen Elsa’s declaration.

Oddly enough, as we neared the end of this summer I found myself hearing, “Let it go.” in the quiet depths of my heart and the more I listened, the more often I heard it and the louder it became:
Holes in the couch cushions caused by doggie nails and epic kiddo forts. Let it go.

Burnt ground beef and almost assuredly ruined pan by the child learning to cook. Let it go.

Kiddo hides an ink pen in the laundry basket and ruins half his (and his brother’s) clothes. Ugh…Let it go.

My value at work suffers because I’m easily distracted and not as productive as I once was. Let it go.

Child suddenly forgets how to get himself ready in the morning and suddenly I have a rogue little soldier. Every. Single. Morning. Let. It. Go.

Child we have been working so hard with to overcome bedwetting backslides and has to return to pull-ups at night. LET IT GO! (and be grateful you didn’t give away that extra box)

I am reminded to revisit my priorities. What do I really want from my kids? What is my job here?
Love God

Love people

Make good decisions

Everything else is out of my control.

A new school year is the perfect time to refocus. Last year my mantra was “Grace Wins Everytime” as a reminder to give my children, my husband, and especially myself grace. Daily.

This year I’m adopting a chorus by Casting Crowns:
Just to know you and to make you known,
We lift your name on high.
Shine like the sun, make darkness run and hide.
We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives.
It’s time for us to more than just survive.
We were made to thrive.

A simple reminder. I’m not special, I know that all mothers at some point find themselves in survival mode. We have forgotten our priorities. We have forgotten how to truly live.
It’s time. I will no longer live in survival mode. I will thrive.

Much love,
The Black Family

This is it? vs. This is it.

This is it? vs. This is it.

Momming is treading water. Not momming is LIKE treading water, momming IS treading water. At summer camp as a kid, I participated in several swim training courses. One of which, in a sort of survival training, we were required to jump into the pool fully clothed and tread water for a period of time. Of course, in such a situation you kick off your shoes right away. You don’t want to lose your shoes but the goal is survival. Momming is like that. You jump in, fully clothed, and have to shed some things that make it difficult to stay afloat. I’ve felt a lot of disappointment as I have had to let go of pieces of myself to stay afloat. I’ve struggled with guilt as I’m not the friend, daughter, sister, employee, or community member I once was. I am proud to finally fall into the #momlife society but it has come with some hefty sacrifices.

As I recall, however, the longer you practice treading water, the stronger you become. I have noticed that I am getting stronger. I am more organized, I cook more (can I get a “hallelujah!”), I don’t get overwhelmed as quickly, and I don’t let the little things bother me. Well, okay…sometimes I still do but not as much! (Quiet, Jared)

This morning when I sat down I surveyed my living room. Paper airplanes, shoes, baby doll clothes, tiny socks, and foam bullets were scattered all about and I thought, “This is it.” This is what my life is about, this is what I was made for. And it is exciting, terrifying, motivating, and peaceful all at once. And then, God reminded me of a time, two years ago when I thought those same three words in utter despair, “This is it?”. Am I just meant to go through, day by day, raising other people’s kids for a short time and then suffering in the emptiness between placements? Is this really what I was made to do? In that time, I surrendered to it. If this is what you want, God…so be it. Here I am Lord, use me. That act of surrender changed my heart. It is easy to get caught in the pity trap when you suffer from infertility, surrender is the only way out. It also gave me a purpose. Surrender shifted my focus outside myself to others and gave me a burning desire to be used somehow for the glory of God, whatever that might mean. Even if it meant never having a family of my own.

Most of you know that we finalized our adoption on October 6th of last year. Our journey is just beginning. “This is it” is not a phrase of finality but one of hope and a promise that great things are planned for our family.

This picture is on the desktop of my computer at work with a line from one of our family’s new favorite song:
I am counting every blessing.
Surely every season you are good to me.
He is so good.
Much love,
The Black Family